Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by the microscopic parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis. People can become infected with Cyclospora by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite.  Both drinking and recreational waters can spread Cyclospora. So too can fresh produce.

Defenses sometimes seem limited to taking extra care about your drinking water and keeping your mouth shut while swimming. And summer is Cyclospora season, meaning the time when you are most at risk for both the parasite and the disease.

And no better time than now for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to announce that the two agencies have a “robust strategy to prevent illnesses caused by Cyclospora.”

“When people eat food contaminated with Cyclospora — mostly fresh produce –or drink contaminated water, they can get an intestinal illness called cyclosporiasis,” FDA’s Frank Yiannas and CDC’s Monica Parise said in a joint statement.

Yiannas is FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. Dr. Parise heads CDC’s Division of Parasitic Disease and Malaria.

After years dating back to the 1990s, Cyclospora in the U.S. was sourced to imported raspberries, basil, snow peas, mesclun, and cilantro. But according to the joint statement, last year was the first time that Cyclospora was confirmed from a domestically grown produce.

And last year alone, there were 3,000 reported cases of cyclosporiasis, including both “travel associated” and domestically acquired.

FDA and CDC promise a quick response this year, using all the tools they have available including new detection techniques and DNA fingerprinting tools for enforcement actions like import alerts. The two agencies are working to close data gaps and improved tools to detect, prevent and control Cyclospora contamination of food.

So far in 2019, the joint statement says 23 domestically acquired cyclosporiasis patients have reported to CDC since May 1. The peak season for Cyclospora is typically the warmest summer months.

FDA is currently validating a method of detecting Cyclospora in agricultural water. It plans to determine the routes of contamination when contaminated produce is identified. It intends to educate growers and enforce the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act ‘s (FSMA’s) emphasis on hygiene, including hand-washing and wearing intact and sanitary gloves.

The FDA-CDC joint statement says it is tough to link cases of cyclosporiasis to each other and to contaminated food products as is routinely done for bacterial pathogens like Listeria and E. coli. They hope to make progress by using the genetic differences of the parasite.

Finally, CDC and FDA, with help with local agencies, plan to increase surveillance sampling assignments for produce associated Cyclospora contamination.

People can become infected with Cyclospora by consuming food or water contaminated with the parasite. People living or traveling in countries where cyclosporiasis is endemic may be at increased risk for infection.

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